Tag Archives: dinners to impress

Gyro inspired stuffed chicken

Well invisible internet friends, it’s good to be home. It may have just been a whirlwind overnight trip, but it made me love this place all the more. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love all the city has to offer, but it was great to roll down for a rocking show, lunch with some fabulous ladies, and a little retail therapy, and then hop back into the car, watching the houses get farther and farther apart. And to watch the traffic lighten imperceptibly with each passing mile, until there was nothing around but trees and fields and the smell of the pines floating in through the open car windows. It was also pretty rad that at the end of that three plus hour car ride, there were some loving arms, happy cats, chirpy chickens, and exciting wildlife awaiting me.

WednesdayWildlife from thePenandthePan-1

That, my friends, is what a hummingbird looks like when they finally sit still (much like I’m going to this afternoon).

Course, there are a few things that I wouldn’t find amiss if they just happened to find themselves transplanted to the woods from the cities. I mean, who can live very long without the deliciousness that is Mediterranean food? I’m telling you, gyros, dolmades, spanakopita, and falafel, these are my kryptonite. Just typing those very foods may have caused my mouth to water just a teensy bit. Who am I kidding? Typing those may have resulted in a full out tummy growl in anticipation. Sorry tum-tum, no dolmades for us today.

It’s cravings for foods like these that inspired this stuffed chicken I have for you. Adapted from my feta, olive, and artichoke chicken breasts (more Med flavors, anyone?), these taste just like a chicken gyro sans the pita. Don’t skimp on the tzatziki and tomatoes, they’re going to elevate this to the next level. Serve this bad boy on a bed of couscous with my Greek green beans and you’ll never have to leave the woods!

Enjoy!

Gyro inspired stuffed chicken from thePenandthePan

Gyro inspired stuffed chicken

Tzatziki sauce to top
½ cup plain yogurt
Shredded cucumber, pressed to remove liquid
1 ½ tsp white wine or rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Pinch of dried oregano

Stuffed chicken
¼ cup shredded mozzarella
2 ounces goat cheese
3 tablespoons red or sweet onion sliced thinly and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon oregano
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 ¼ lbs total)
1 large egg white
½ cup bread crumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Fresh ripe tomato to top

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly coat a shallow baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together cheeses, onion, garlic and oregano and set aside. In a shallow dish, large enough to accommodate the chicken breasts, lightly beat the egg white. In another shallow dish, mix together breadcrumbs and salt and pepper.

Cut a large pocket along the long edge of the chicken breast, being careful not to go through the chicken breast completely. Holding the chicken breast flat with the palm of one hand, carefully run the paring knife in a slight circle, following the curve of the chicken breast.

Stuff ¼ of the cheese mixture into each chicken breast. Holding the edges of the chicken breast together, dip the top of the breast in the egg white and then in the breadcrumbs. Place in baking dish.

Bake chicken at 350° for 35 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest, non-stuffed portion of the breast reads 170°.

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Bacon, tomato, and corn pasta

Is it creepy that every day I’m more and more convinced that I moved to the best place on earth? Are you tired of me going on and on extolling the virtues of living in the woods? Well, tough! Cause I love it here, and you get to hear all about it.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things that are tough, but everything seems so much more balanced than previously. I worked crazy long hours this week, but that just means I get a three day weekend. It’s been cold and gloomy this week, but last weekend was gorgeous and this one promises more of the same. We have a lot of yard work and cleanup on the agenda in the coming weekends (having moved into a place that was vacant and had the bare minimum done to the landscaping) but we have a hot tub to sink into after completing the work. See, it’s hard to get cranky when you’re surrounded by awesome.

I also continue to be amazed at the wildlife that surrounds us. Take for example this adorable (and nuisancey) deer. Sure, it means extra protection on the garden and apple trees, but that sight there still takes my breath away. Ok, maybe it’s because I’m screaming, “Cripes! Watch out for that deer!” but still.

Deer-1

So yeah, it’s been a busy, busy week, and I’m ready to collapse with a book (perhaps into the aforementioned hot tub). But that’s ok, because this tasty-asty pasta comes together in a snap. The bacon, of course, is amazing, but the balsamic cuts the richness. And fresh corn and tomatoes, yum! Even if it doesn’t look like spring yet, delish produce is making it’s way into the stores up here. Normally, you’d find me going on about the importance of local vegetables, but let’s be honest, it’s been a long winter, and that “fresh” sweet corn is starting to look awfully good. So don’t wait until high summer to make this, in fact, don’t even wait until tomorrow!

Enjoy!

Bacon tomato corn pasta

Bacon, tomato, and corn pasta

3 ears corn
8 ounces spaghetti
1/2 lb bacon, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch slices
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper diced
1 1/2 cups tomatoes halved
1Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp Chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove corn from cobs and set aside. Place cobs in water and add pasta. Cook pasta to desired doneness. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with 1/2 Tbsp oil. Return pasta to pan, covering to keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook bacon over medium high heat until browned. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel. Drain all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat from pan and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and green pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add corn and cook about 3 minutes more. Add tomatoes and basil and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in vinegar.

Add vegetables and bacon to pasta, toss with reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with Parmesan.

Crockpot pork tacos with beer

I am having another amazing week. Getting tired of hearing that yet? I really can’t believe how much happier I am in the woods. It’s like the decision to pack in city life and just move on is reaffirmed every day. In fact, I can hardly believe that we’ve only been here eight months!

Not to be all sunshine and giggles, this week was a little tough. After all having two jobs is time consuming, and though I remember May being crazy busy when I was a student, turns out I had no idea just what that meant for grown-ups. Not that I’m laying claim to that title, mind you. But for every tough thing that happened, something amazing happened.

Culminating in yesterday’s wildlife “adventure.” I love having birds around. Always have. In fact one of the first things I did when we moved up here was request a bird book (Himself’s mother to the rescue again!). Now, you’ll find that and my inherited binoculars paired together on the porch on the reg. So naturally, I have a ton of bird feeders. We’ve got one outside the bedroom window. And since we put it up, I’ve been fascinated by how fearless those agile, little chickadees are. But I had no idea just how fearless until I went to change out the feeders yesterday. I just sauntered up, new feeder in hand, and I realized these birds weren’t going anywhere. I slowly grabbed my phone and started taking a few shots. And those birds just went on pigging out, swooping in short flights all around me. It was amazing. I dropped off the new feeder, and grabbed the big camera. Still showing no fear, these birds tried to figure out just what I was doing. And that’s when this happened.

Chickadees

You can bet I’m going to try to repeat that scene again today. Especially since Mr. Blue Jay found the new feeder sturdy enough to hold both him and his raucous cries. All signs that spring has finally arrived, I mean it is May already.

In fact, it’s almost Cinco de Mayo! You might be inundated with fiesta flavored recipes, but I bet you won’t find one as easy (and delish, I dare say) as this one. As if pork tacos aren’t tasty enough, I went and put beer in there. Yeah, I said beer. In your tacos. Soon to be in your FACE. Cause you’ll be busy stuffing it. Amirite?!

Ok, all hyperbole aside, these tacos are super, amazingly, unbelievably tasty! The assembly couldn’t be easier either. Mix it all up, walk away, come back and stuff your face. Keep in mind though, 3 lbs of pork is a lot. This is the recipe that you serve to a crowd and then sit back and relish the accolades.

Enjoy!

Crockpot pork tacos with beer

Crockpot pork tacos with beer

Adapted from Crock Pot Cheddar Beer Chicken Tacos at How Sweet It Is

1 medium sweet onion
2.5 – 3 pound pork roast
10 ounce can of tomatoes (I used Rotel’s tomatoes with green chilies)
1 green pepper
1-12 ounce bottle of beer
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons dried cilantro (optional if you’re not the cilantro freak I am)
Taco shells or tortillas
Favorite toppings: lettuce, tomatoes, more green pepper, and of course cilantro cream sauce

Roughly chop onions and place in the bottom of a crock pot. If necessary, remove butcher twine from pork roast, and place on top of onions. Drain tomatoes, reserving juice, and place on top of pork. Roughly chop green pepper and add on top of tomatoes.

In a medium bowl, mix together beer, reserved tomato juice, and taco seasonings. Carefully pour over and around pork roast. Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

Just before serving, shred pork with two forks. Assemble tacos. Stuff your face.

Feta, artichoke, and olive stuffed chicken breasts

You guys, I have to be honest here, I really struggled with this post. It’s been a rough week, and I’ve been trying to write an engaging (and positive) post, but, it’s been a struggle. This is actually the fifth attempt my friends. So for now, I’m going to give myself a much needed attitude adjustment. You’ll find me lazing away in the hottest, steamiest bath, dog earing the pages of my gardening magazines, dreaming of the spring to come. After that comes an intense stress relieving baking session. Just me and some music and all the flour covered surfaces. I expect by the time we speak next, my Pollyanna outlook will have returned.

In the meantime, though, I do want to share something that’s been rolling around in my head this week. I had coffee with a friend of mine this past week. During the course of the conversation, where we extolled all the virtues of living up here in the woods, she mentioned that up here, she doesn’t compare herself with anyone. The thought stuck with me, and I realized that I’ve been doing the same. You know, being happy with myself, instead of finding myself lacking in comparison with someone else. For me and Laura, it took being in the woods for that to happen, but you guys, I can’t even begin to explain how freeing that is. Turns out I wasted a whole lotta time thinking I was a little bit lame. Turns out throwing all in and chasing your dreams will fix that little problem!

So, while I’m off fixing that attitude problem of mine, you should totally be making this chicken recipe. Another of those easy-peasy recipes that will really impress. I just heart these Mediterranean flavors so very much. The recipe works best with Kalamata olives, but will also work with regular black olives.

Enjoy!

Feta olive and artichoke stuffed chicken

Feta, olive, and artichoke stuffed chicken

Adapted from Grassroots Co-op Recipe Collection

¼ cup feta cheese
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tablespoons chopped black olives
3 tablespoons chopped artichoke hearts
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 ¼ lbs total)
1 large egg white
½ cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a shallow baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together feta, mozzarella, olives, and artichoke hearts. In a shallow dish, large enough to accommodate the chicken breasts, lightly beat the egg white. In another shallow dish, mix together breadcrumbs and dried basil.

Cut a large pocket along the long edge of the chicken breast, being careful not to go through the chicken breast completely. Holding the chicken breast flat with the palm of one hand, carefully run the paring knife in a slight circle, following the curve of the chicken breast.

Stuff ¼ of the cheese mixture into each chicken breast. Holding the edges of the chicken breast together, dip the top of the breast in the egg white and then in the breadcrumbs. Place in baking dish.

Bake chicken at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest, non-stuffed portion of the breast reads 170 degrees.

Browned butter, lemon and sage pasta

You guys, I seriously have the best job. Why just yesterday, I was plied with homemade sandwich loaf. Minneapolis was a desert for this delicious treat, and now it’s everywhere. Yayyyy! I know, you’re thinking, “How does homemade sandwich loaf equate to the best job?” Well, speaking from a girl who uses food to show how she cares about someone, it’s pretty awesome to walk into a room and have your favorite treat set aside for you.

But seriously, I have never before been made to feel so welcome at a job. My coworkers are the friendliest. And everyone is so concerned that I have the tools to do my job right. It’s a wonderful feeling!

I’m sure by now, you’re getting a little tired of me waxing melodic about how wonderful my job is, but to be completely honest, I haven’t had much time to do anything but work. Finding the balance in two jobs is taking a bit more time than I expected.

Moving on, Himself and I are not real big fans of Valentine’s Day. The holiday always feels like it’s placing so many expectations on people, so it usually slides under the radar here. That said, I should have shared this pasta recipe with you sooner, because it would have been a perfect V-day meal. So now, you have to promise to keep this in mind for your next date night. It’s a super quick recipe to put together, but will really impress. I mean, really, the “mmmmmm’s” coming from Himself were almost overwhelming. The recipe calls for a pre-made ravioli. Yes, it’s true, I did not make my own ravioli. Instead, you’re going to want to splurge on a really good, pre-made ravioli. Ours was a lamb and zucchini ravioli from the Sunrise Deli. Mmmmmmm. Now lamb ravioli won’t be found everywhere, but chicken or mushroom would work well here too. Just avoid anything acidic, as it will clash with the lemon.

Citrus has been sneaking into my recipes everywhere, I just can’t get enough of it. It’s that time of year, where even in the frozen hinterlands, the citrus is gorgeous and delicious. This recipe uses the juice and zest of lemons in it, but if you start to find yourself with extra peels, Kate at the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking has put together a list of how to use up those peels. So far, I’ve been focusing on filling my freezer with all kinds of delicious packets of citrus zest.

This may be the most scattered, free form blog post of yet, so thanks for sticking through to the end. Now go make that pasta, my friends!

Enjoy!

Browned butter sage and lemon pasta

Browned butter, lemon and sage pasta

12 ounces of your favorite pasta – pre-made ravioli works really well
6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon sage, finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Parmesan cheese to garnish

In a large pot, cook pasta per package directions.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cook butter over medium-low heat until fragrant and browned, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a separate saute pan, warm oil. Add garlic and lemon zest, saute until garlic is fragrant and just lightly brown, about 2 minutes. Add sage and cook just 1 minute more. Remove from heat and pour in browned butter and lemon juice.

Drain pasta, reserving ¼ of the pasta water. Toss pasta in sauce, adding pasta water if necessary. You need only add the pasta water if you want to cut the richness of the sauce. Sprinkle pasta with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Pretzel bread bowls from Bake Your Day

That string of cold rainy days I was talking about on Saturday, well they finally cleared up Sunday afternoon. Just in time for us to work our way out to the woods and clear some of the deadfall for firewood. I have to say guys, I’m mighty proud of myself. Himself worked super hard cutting all of the wood to six foot lengths, and this girl, well she loaded that whole trailer full! So full, that by the end the four-wheeler was protesting the load.

Sure, I know. You’re thinking, “Listen lady, the novelty of that is going to wear off mighty quick.” I agree, but it’s that sense of satisfaction from a job well done that I really enjoyed (the long soak in the hot tub after, that sure didn’t hurt either). And I know that there’s a great many more trailers that need to be hauled before the snow flies. That sense of urgency, just adds to the pride, knowing that I can do this. Feeling so good about working so hard, helps reinforce the sense that we absolutely made the right decision to move to the country. Getting out there, also shows us all the potential for all this land. Super exciting!

So anyway, even though the sun finally came out (and stayed out) that gray, cool weather left me with a craving for soup. Step one for the soup? Bread bowls to put it in, naturally. Ok, ok, I know you’re thinking bread bowls are hard to make. Guess what?! They really aren’t. Really, I mean it. I used to be just like you, and then two years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to master my fear of baking with yeast. And it worked. Seriously, the only flops I’ve had with yeast are when I’ve decided to make some wack-a-doodle additions or adjustments, so stick to the recipe and you’ll do just fine. This recipe is from the awesome blog Bake Your Day. I absolutely love this recipe, and I think you will too. The only change I made to the recipe was to add basil to the dough and then to substitute a basil garlic seasoning mixture in place of the salt. Crazy town, I know, but I don’t care for a lot of salt on my pretzels. And the mystery soup that I’ll be sharing this weekend has plenty of salt in it.

Enjoy!

Pretzel bread bowls

Pretzel Bread Bowls from Bake Your Day

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour
8 cups water
1/4 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs. water
Coarse salt
Optional:
1 ½ Tablespoons chopped basil
Basil garlic seasoning mix

Combine the water, sugar and sea salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes until a layer of foam appears on the top of the liquid.

Turn the mixer on to low speed and add the basil if using. Then, add in the flour, one cup at a time and mix thoroughly. You may need a little more or a little less depending on how we your dough is. Increase the speed to medium and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl. While the dough is kneading, oil a large glass bowl. Turn the dough out onto the counter and shape it into a ball. Place the ball into the oiled glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and store in a warm place for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Bring 8 cups of water to a simmer with the baking soda. Meanwhile, divide the dough into four equal pieces and roll into evenly-shaped balls. One by one, place the balls of dough into the boiling water for 1 minute, turning once. Remove and return to pan..

Mix the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Brush the tops of each bread bowl and then sprinkle with coarse salt or basil garlic mixture. Slit an “x” into the top of each bowl.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack.

BBQ chicken en papillote

Guys! I finally organized the entire kitchen to my liking! Sure, I bet you’re asking yourself, “What the heck took you so long?!” Well, as you can imagine, this girl has a lot of kitchen implements, appliances, pots, and pans. When in doubt for gifts, people always add to the collection. It’s fantastic to have a hobby (ok, obsession)  that your friends and family support!

To celebrate, we’re making chicken en papillote. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s a fancy way to say cooking in parchment paper, and is about the easiest. I may be losing my mastery of the French language, but I’m just embarking on mastering all those French cooking techniques. Seems an ok trade-off for now.

Now that the kitchen is all set up, food photography is just a step behind, This will be the last of the iPhone shots, that I know you’ve all come to love <groan>. It also turns out that this meal doesn’t photograph the best. I questioned sharing it with you, but the presentation at table is just too good to pass up! So what we have are the technique photos instead.

Which works, because, this recipe is really more about the technique than the ingredients. This recipe is using the Homemade BBQ sauce I showed you last week, but you can really use whatever sauce you like. Substitute whatever you have on hand, change the quantities, omit stuff altogether, it’ll still be delicious. En papillote works great for fish too, layers of asparagus, lemon and capers, oh my! For fish, the cooking temp and time will change – 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Either protein you choose to use, this meal is sure to impress. Enjoy!

BBQ chicken en papillote

Chicken en papillote

Layers on the heart shaped parchment

2 medium potatoes
2 chicken breasts
¼ cup thinly sliced brussel sprouts (about 5 sprouts)
Thinly sliced red onion
Feta cheese
Homemade BBQ sauce
Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash potatoes and pierce several times with a fork. Microwave potatoes 2 ½ – 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

While potatoes are cooling, take a piece of parchment paper about 3 times the size of the chicken breast. Fold parchment in half, and cut out into a heart shape.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice thinly. Place in layers on one half of the parchment “heart.” Keep potatoes layered in a size that approximates the chicken breast. Top with chicken, then red onion, drizzled BBQ sauce, brussel sprouts, and a sprinkle of feta.

Fold parchment “heart” in half. Roll and fold paper beginning from top of heart. Continue rolling and folding in small sections until the entire packet is sealed. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 28 – 30 minutes.

Chicken en papillote2

Beginning from the top, just roll and fold your way around

To serve, plate the entire packet, and slice open at the table.

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